The beginning of 2013 not only marks the start of the second half of the Coalition, but also the start of the newly elected Federal Committees. Here is some advice for the three crucial ones, Federal Policy Committee (FPC), Federal Conference Committee (FCC) and Federal Executive (FE).
For FPC: Radical policy is required for 2015
Common sense says the 2015 manifesto should play it safe, yet common sense is often wrong.
A study of policy positions in party manifestos since 1971 in Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK shows: Parties in Government who adopt relatively extreme ideological positions do better at election time.
The crucial thing is relative to whom? The theory, if correct, would suggest relative to the voters you are seeking to target. Read the study to find out why, but in short, voters know governing involves compromise and so overselling to your supporters helps to reaffirm the direction of travel.
Interestingly for Labour, the same study shows that opposition parties who adopt relatively extreme ideological positions lose voter support. After all, as an opposition party “they would say that wouldn’t they?”
Where should FPC start? Well to really get the juices flowing, I would recommend reading Really Facing the Future by David Boyle and Simon Titley.
For FE (or more appropriately the separate Campaigns and Communications Committee): The why is more important than the what
While manifestos and policy positions are great, it is even more crucial for these to be put in context. Why should people care that we are doing x? Most of us have an answer to that question, but that is the answer for ‘us’ and, let’s be honest, your average Lib Dem member has a different priority of motivations to most of the public.
Why? Because it helps us to reach out to new voters. This, in my mind, was the failure of the 12 Days of Christmas campaign; it was presented with no context,
Mark Pack reminded us last week of the need to undestand the concept of framing. This is important, as we start to increase our level of conversation with the public. Understanding individual values and the unmet needs and motivations behind them is important if we are to get our vision across to a wider audience. This should also include a move away from outdated segmentation strategies based on ‘demographics’.
For FCC: Shout, shout, let it all out
Governing is rarely about the manifesto, even less so as we move into the second half of the Coalition. As members we need to up our game and use Conference to make it clear when we feel a decision the Government is taking goes against Lib Dem values.
Federal Conference Committee can play a crucial role in this, by making sure conference has plenty of time to debate and vote on contentious areas of Government policy.
Such action would give our MPs greater clout to demand reform of legislation giving our leader the opportunity to say ‘I can’t deliver my backbenchers on this one’ (as used by David Cameron)
As I see it, two crucial tests are coming up – secret courts and shares for rights.
On secret courts the ante has well and truly been upped since the Autumn Conference via the excellent campaign being run by Jo Shaw, Martin Tod and Charlotte Henry.
Shares for rights is another crucial test, an absurd policy which undermines the long-held liberal principle of employee ownership, a policy which businesses do not even want and which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says will encourage tax avoidance.
So there you have it. Three things to help concentrate the mind of the new Federal Committees. Happy 2013 everyone!
* Chris Richards was a candidate for the London Assembly in May 2012 and is a Lib Dem activist in London.